City dwellers in apartment buildings who lack dedicated parking spaces are sort of out of luck when it comes to owning an electric vehicle. As a possible remedy, I’ve mused before about the possibilities of installing public charging stations on city streetlights.
Now it looks like the city of Lancaster in California’s desert is moving forward with a pilot program, as ChargedEVs reports:
The City of Lancaster, California has launched a demonstration project that will integrate chargers into five streetlights in the trendy downtown district. The charging units are made by ebee Smart Technologies, a specialist in controller technology designed to make installing public charging cheaper and more flexible. The company has installed some 10,000 of its controllers in chargers in Europe.
A grant from the Antelope Valley Air Quality Management District will cover 80% of the project cost, including installation, maintenance, and five years of data collection. The remaining 20% will be covered by ebee and its partners, EasyCharge and eluminocity, which created the charger housings.
If it can work in Lancaster, maybe it can work in densely populated downtowns anywhere around the world. Because otherwise these residents are victims of inadequate charging infrastructure, as Berkeley and UCLA law schools covered in our new report “Plugging Away: How to Boost Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure.”
And this infrastructure deployment can’t happen soon enough, with automakers like Volvo now announcing that they’re abandoning internal combustion engines by 2019.
The electric drive revolution is here, but it will falter without more investment in options like streetlight charging, for all those who live in buildings without dedicated parking.
Electric vehicles (EVs) represent one of the most promising clean technologies, in terms of their potential benefits for the electricity grid, local air pollution, and reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. Not to mention they’re fun to drive.
The good news is that as EV prices have dropped by nearly half the last few years, the number of Californians driving them has gone way up, with almost 300,000 EVs now on the state’s roads (up from about 10,000 just five years ago). The batteries in these vehicles can be used to soak up surplus renewable energy, and the use of electricity instead of petroleum as a fuel means significant reductions in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
But all this progress is threatened by the lack of reliable and accessible charging stations, particularly for the 40 percent of Californians who live in apartments, townhouses, and condominiums without dedicated on-site parking spaces with charging capability (including even just a simple wall outlet).
Researchers estimate that California may need up to 220,000 publicly accessible charging ports by 2020 to meet projected demand, way beyond the roughly 12,000 available today. Hundreds of thousands of additional charging stations may be necessary at those multi-unit dwellings.
Private investment alone won’t be enough to make it happen: the business model for charging stations is currently not strong enough to attract sufficient private capital. Simply put, many charging stations are too expensive to build and operate right now, without dependable near-term revenue to cover costs and produce a profit.
“Plugging Away” Report Releasing Today
To address the challenge, UC Berkeley and UCLA Law convened experts from the EV charging sector in 2016, including automakers, utilities, and charging companies, as well as government officials, academics, and nonprofit advocates.
Based on those discussions, the law schools are today releasing the new report “Plugging Away: How to Boost Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure.” It is the eighteenth report from our Climate Change and Business Initiative, generously supported by Bank of America since 2009.
Among a number of detailed solutions, the report recommends:
- More robust and strategic electric utility investments in charging infrastructure, at least for any new wiring to the charging station, in key locations such as workplaces, multi-unit dwellings, and fast-charge “plazas” to stimulate maximum EV convenience and adoption;
- Revised commercial electricity rates to encourage charging at the right places and times to best meet grid needs, including options to reduce high demand charges related to peak usage at remote fast-charging sites; and
- Targeted rebates and grants for office and multi-unit dwelling building owners to install charging stations, as well as expedited permitting to allow more curbside charging.
Free Lunch Event & Webcast at UCLA Law, Noon to 1:30pm
To launch the report, UCLA Law is hosting a free lunch event from noon to 1:30pm today, featuring a keynote by California Energy Commissioner Janea Scott and a panel including:
- Tyson Eckerle, Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz)
- Terry O’Day, EVgo
- Dean Taylor, Southern California Edison
For those not in the Los Angeles area or unable to attend in person, the event will be webcast live.
I hope you can tune in or join. With a more robust and reliable charging network, policy makers and businesses can help ‘pave the way’ to more electric vehicle adoption in California and beyond.
Few clean technologies are as central for meeting climate change goals as electric vehicles. Yet in places like California, which leads the U.S. with approximately 300,000 EVs on the road, the needed charging infrastructure is lagging.
Analysts estimate that the state will need as many as 220,000 publicly accessible EV charging ports by 2020 to meet demand, well beyond the roughly 12,000 available in the state today. So how will California meet this challenge?
Join the UCLA and UC Berkeley Schools of Law for a free lunchtime forum on policy options to boost California’s EV charging infrastructure on Thursday, June 29th at UCLA Law. The two law schools will release a major joint report at the event as part of the Climate Change and Business Research Initiative, entitled “Plugging Away: How To Boost Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure.”
WHEN: Thursday, June 29th, 12 noon to 1:30 p.m. (registration and lunch begin promptly at 11:30am).
WHERE: Room 1447, UCLA School of Law, 385 Charles E Young Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90095
The Honorable Janea Scott, Commissioner, California Energy Commission
- Tyson Eckerle, Office of Governor Jerry Brown, Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz)
- Terry O’Day, EVgo
- Dean Taylor, Southern California Edison
RSVP by Friday, June 23rd. Space is limited, and MCLE credit is available.
It’s one of the best uses I’ve seen for used EV batteries — putting them to use as mobile charging devices for EVs. That’s what Freewire is doing, and their product is a top four finalist for the SAFE energy security prize, to be announced at the end of July. Here’s the promo video:
You can read more about what it will take to boost a market for used EV batteries in Berkeley / UCLA Law’s Reuse and Repower report.
Well, it was bound to happen. After hearing other EV drivers tell me their horror stories, I finally (sort of) got one of my own.
On Wednesday last week, I parked my Nissan LEAF at an off-site airport parking lot for a four-day trip, returning Sunday evening. I was the sole adult with three children in tow and parked the car with about 70 percent of the battery remaining (more than enough to get back home). I loaded the luggage and kids onto the shuttle van, had a great trip, and returned to the car on Sunday evening. Everyone was ready to get home, have a quick, late dinner, and go to bed.
But lo and behold when I looked at the dashboard, the sign said “key not detected” and the battery was at only 20% capacity. The roughly 24 miles remaining was not enough for a 15-mile, mostly uphill trip home.
What happened? Evidently I had failed to turn the car off when I left it. And with no auto shut-off feature, the car battery slowly died over four days, presumably beeping for an undetected key that was in my pocket 400 miles away.
We weren’t going to make it home. Panic ensued. We had to find an available charger somewhere nearby as the battery quickly dwindled on the freeway. We finally located (via Plugshare.com) a ChargePoint Level 2 in a parking garage by an Amtrak station in Oakland’s Jack London Square. Thankfully one of the two parking spots/chargers was available when we pulled in.
Since I don’t have a ChargePoint membership, I had to call to activate the charger with my Visa. I was on hold for a few minutes, and after about 5 minutes I got it plugged in. Then I had to wait in an empty parking garage with three hungry and tired kids while the car slowly charged. I gave myself about 30 minutes, which I figured would be about an additional 10 miles or so — just enough to get home.
I unplugged after about 35 minutes to be safe and had 28% of the battery now. But it was still a white knuckle drive home as the dashboard said we had about 9 miles remaining when we were about 5 miles from home. It was not a pleasant way to end the trip.
Lessons learned? Of course I need to double-check that the car is actually turned off. But why did Nissan not include an auto shut-off feature? After a day left on with no key, I think it’s safe for the car to turn off automatically rather than draining the battery. I really hope Nissan fixes that problem. The car motor is silent and so it’s not always obvious that it’s been left on. And I’ve noticed that sometimes it’s easy to accidentally double-click the off button, which actually turns the car back on.
Still, all in all we were pretty lucky. We found a charger and everything worked out. With more charging stations deployed, this kind of situation will be easier to handle in the future. But it was an inconvenience that could have been avoided by Nissan, and not just by my being more careful. I surely will be in the future though.
Necessity breeds invention, and in the case of electric vehicle charging, it’s come from an unlikely source. Tony Williams was a fairly typical EV driver and advocate. But in the last few years he has become a serial entrepreneur, developing homemade charging products that have become commercial successes. And they have all sprung from his own needs as a driver.
He’s got a number of nifty inventions, especially for Toyota Rav4 EV drivers. But my favorite might be his extension cord idea. From a profile on Williams in Charged Electric Vehicles Magazine:
When you come to a charging spot it’s often blocked, or the last guy left his EV there, or you just can’t reach because your charge port is in the rear – like with the RAV4, BMW i3, Mercedes B-Class, and Tesla Model S,” said Williams. “The number-one problem with charge ports in the rear is when you pull into angled parking spots with a charger on the curb. Often, the cord will barely reach, or it won’t at all, and turning the car around to back it in on a busy street is nearly impossible.”
In these cases, Williams realized that a J1772 extension cord would be invaluable. So he created one, called it JLONG, and started selling it. It’s one of those products, like jumper cables or a spare tire, that when you need it, you really really need it. The unfortunate truth is that when a driver needs to charge away from home, the competition is not only other EVs, but also gas cars that want to use the charging spots for parking. The JLONG helps to satisfy this really basic need. “I’ve seen some really nutty stuff out there with people stretching cords to the limit,” said Williams.
Like other states, California has a shortage of public EV charging stations and a problem ensuring that they are properly maintained and available for us when drivers need them. The extension cords could provide an easy way to increase their availability by allowing people to charge when another car is blocking the spot and either isn’t electric or is already charged.
As Williams relates, “It saved my bacon quite a few times, and I’ve heard a lot of similar stories from our customers. We sell quite a few of them.” The “JLONG” comes in customizable lengths but may soon be standardized to meet high-volume demand. For his part, Williams carries a 40 foot version.
It’s nice to see this kind of grassroots innovation take hold — signs that the electric vehicle market is here to stay and launching market-reinforcing products and services.